Labour Party leader Keir Starmer pulled out of a virtual iftar on Wednesday organised by the Ramadan Tent Project after pro-Israel groups questioned the views of its CEO Omar Salha.
Starmer cancelled after the pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle and the pro Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews highlighted how Salha had backed Muslim groups CAGE, MEND and Friends of Al Aqsa on Twitter.
Salha has previously tweeted in support of CAGE saying: “Time for those who stand for the values of justice and liberty to support UK Cage and not be intimidated by the powers that be.”
In March 2019, the Ramadan Tent Project’s Twitter account praised the Muslim advocacy group MEND as a friend and supporter.
And Mr Salha also shared a tweet in March from the Friends of Al Aqsa account that expressed support for a boycott of Israeli goods. The tweet said: “This #Ramadan, Don’t Eat into #Palestine.”
CAGE, MEND and Friends of Al Aqsa have all been labelled “extremists” by right-wing organisations – accusations they deny.
The Ramadan Tent Project has not directly addressed the Labour leader’s cancellation but said in a statement that “any attempt to undermine the excellent relationship Ramadan Tent Project has with the British Jewish community is divisive and deeply concerning.”
It said: “The Ramadan Tent Project was founded in 2013 with a mission of bringing communities together across Britain to better understand each other. To date, through Ramadan Tent Project’s flagship initiative Open Iftar, over 200,000 people of all faiths and none have been hosted to break bread and share a free Iftar meal during the holy month of Ramadan.
“Ramadan Tent Project is proud to have hosted speakers from a variety of backgrounds and is committed in continuing to do so. Previous speakers have included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Mayor of London, and representatives from the following organisations: the Board of Deputies, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the House of Lords, Westminster Abbey, The FA, the British Council, the Royal Society of Arts and many more.
“Given what we have experienced over the past year, we are all desperate to reconnect with people and strengthen bonds that this global pandemic has weakened. With increasing loneliness and isolation, events like the Virtual Open Iftar are organised to share the community spirit and bring together people who may not share the same beliefs, views or life experiences and create a space of mutual engagement and exchange. In doing so, we look forward to continually convening and connecting with different viewpoints and developing a greater understanding of one another’s positions.
“We are surprised and disappointed at the claims being made by Jake Wallis Simons of the Jewish Chronicle in his recent article about the reasons why Ramadan Tent Project’s event with Keir Starmer of the Labour Party was cancelled. In the article it is alleged that ‘Ramadan Tent Project failed to respond to our inquiry’ – this is completely false and disingenuous given the above statement was sent on the 20th of April to the editorial team, the same day a media request was received from the Chronicle. Any attempt to undermine the excellent relationship Ramadan Tent Project has with the British Jewish community is divisive and deeply concerning.
“Ramadan Tent Project has always sought to welcome people from all backgrounds and our mutually respectful and positive relationship with the British Jewish community is an important constituency which falls within that. In the true spirit of Ramadan, we welcome Jake Wallis Simons and Tal Ofer to attend our iftars any evening this Ramadan and demonstrate that the diversity of opinion and tolerance only enriches our environment and creates a more inclusive space of belonging.”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Association of Britain have released the following statement condemning Keir Starmer’s actions:
Since becoming Labour Party leader last year Keir Starmer has reoriented the party firmly towards a pro-Israel stance.
During the Labour leadership campaign Starmer said: “I support Zionism without qualification.”
And in his victory speech he said: “Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party… I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of our Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”
Yet Starmer’s views seem to be at odds with Labour Party members.
Recently a new poll showed that most party members support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and consider Israel to be an Apartheid state,
The recent survey by British firm YouGov indicated that 61 percent of Labour members support the global BDS movement. Only 8 percent said they oppose BDS.
And last year a report found huge levels of dissatisfaction and distrust in the Labour Party by its own Muslim members and supporters.
The report, commissioned by the Labour Muslim Network, found that 46% of Muslim members and supporters believe the Labour Party does not represent the Muslim community effectively, whereas only 29% feel that it does.
The survey also found that 59% of Muslim members and supporters do not feel “well represented by the leadership of the Labour Party.” And 55% said they do not “trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively.”